Spitting on the ground is public enemy No. 1 in Hong Kong and Taiwan, while in Shanghai people really hate bad service.
While bad drivers annoy people in many other parts of Asia, almost nine out of 10 people in China's international locales find spitting the most reviled offence, according to a survey published in next month's Reader's Digest.
Editor Jim Plouffe attributes the China findings to public health concerns from the spread of SARS. Spitting is also the top irritant in Singapore and is a close second to bad service in Shanghai.
"Maybe the findings would be different if you talked to people in villages outside Shanghai, which is pretty middle-class compared with most of China," Plouffe said. "But in Hong Kong spitting has really stopped and it would almost be a taboo these days."
Bad service is the second biggest irritant on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
People in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia rank bad driving as life's biggest irritant.
Litterbugs, people using foul language, queue jumpers, smokers and noisy neighbors all feature near the top of Asia's annoyance list - highlighting the distaste for other people's bad personal habits.
Some of the strange irritations are old women wearing too much makeup and the fashion for low-slung pants, while others name parents who do not control their children in public, leering men and dirty public toilets.
"We were surprised irritants in everyday life such as Internet pop-up ads, telemarketers and computer crashes were quite far down on the list," Plouffe said.
"It shows people get most irritated by people and what they do to each other - the things that none of us can really do anything about.
"If you ask people about their popular brands, they will just reel them off without saying too much. But with irritations, a person will stay on the phone for half an hour detailing what really gets to them."
Plouffe said that bad driving topping the "What Drives You Nuts" poll in many countries could reflect the chaos found on roads in the region.
Reader's Digest surveyed 3,600 people across Asia - including 400 in Hong Kong - in three age groups who were asked to rate 20 common annoyances on a sliding scale.
(Shenzhen Daily/Agencies December 29, 2005)